Making Numbers Meaningful

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Making Numbers Meaningful

Recently, a story broke about The Paradise Papers, leaked financial records from Bermuda-based law firm, Appleby. The documents detail how the world’s richest companies and individuals shelter their money from taxes.

According to Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, more than $7.6 trillion is hidden in tax havens. That figure is so astronomical - almost too big to wrap your head around, right? How much is $7.6 trillion really? The human brain has difficulty translating the abstract concept of large numbers into concrete reality. When presented with a number like “$7.6 trillion” MRI scans reveal low brain activity.

Clients often come to us at UP, facing challenges around how to transform large or complex numbers into meaningful, memorable information. The key is visual storytelling. New research reveals that both hemispheres of the brain process numbers in visual centers; when a number is explained as a picture the listener’s brain is actively engaged.

Reveal, a podcast from the Center for Investigative Reporting, released an episode about The Paradise Papers that beautifully illustrates just how enormous these tax free sums are. Using a visual, they painted a very clear picture of just how much money these documents exposed. 

Try this exercise: let’s say someone is hiding $8 billion dollars. Notice your associations with that number. Now picture a $20 bill. Make it into a $100 bill. Then keep imaging it increases in value until it’s a million dollar bill. Now picture a swimming pool large enough to hold 1 million of those million dollar bills. Now picture eight of those swimming pools. That’s how much money that person is hiding.

In the business world, people often try to make numbers meaningful with charts and percentages, but brain scans reveal that these techniques aren't always enough to activate the visual centers of the brain. It’s storytelling that moves people to process the full implications of a number, often leading to emotional responses and decision making.

For more techniques about how to make numbers or complex information meaningful, contact Laura Ramadei at UP.

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Unlock Empathy for Breakthrough Storytelling, Presentations & Meetings 

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Unlock Empathy for Breakthrough Storytelling, Presentations & Meetings 

Everyone knows emotion drives buying; it’s a central tenant of business conversation and storytelling. So why do some stories work better than others? Empathy.

Most brand stories are using it wrong.

Paul Slovic, a research psychologist at the University of Oregon, has dedicated his life to understanding why people send an outpouring of donations when they see one suffering child on the news but there’s very little response to reports of mass atrocities.

He concluded that when listening to a story, the human brain is very good at caring about one individual. As the number of people increase, our ability to empathize decreases. Even shifting from one to two people makes a huge difference.

He recently did an experiment, not yet published, in which he had people visualize American money totalling $1. Options to picture included: 100 pennies, 10 dimes, four quarters, and a dollar bill. Overwhelmingly, everyone pictured the dollar. The solo object was significantly easier for people to visualize and connect with.

This study, along with multiple others, reveals that human beings emotionally connect with stories about one specific person.

This finding is counterintuitive to most brands who tell stories about groups of people or a general person like a “young bride” or a “high level executive.” Science (and screenwriters) know that stories about groups and categories don’t prompt emotional attachment or drive action.

To get the most out of your brand’s story, modify it based on these questions for each conversation:

  1. What kind of person does your listener want to impact?
  2. Picture 1 of those people. What does he or she look like and care about?
  3. Think of a reference to make the person more specific. Do you have a friend, family member or movie character that fits this description?

Use that person as the main character to talk about your brand and at the end of the conversation, if it feels necessary, mention all the other people your band impacts.

Try this approach and notice a big shift in the engagement of your listener.

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Laugh Your Way to Better Business

The holidays. As the song goes, "It's the most wonderful time of the year..." Yet everyone gets crazed. 

Amidst shopping, family traditions, and office parties, people's stress levels often tip from exhilaration to total exhaustion.

We invite you to laugh it off! Laugh with your colleagues, your boss and your clients. Science proves a little laughter can make your life better and your business stronger.

3 Reasons Laughter is Great for Business:

  1. Laugher builds deep bonds. It's an involuntary response triggered from one of the oldest parts of your brain. When you laugh with someone it creates a strong relationship and builds trust.
  2. Laughter lowers stress levels. It boosts endorphins, the hormones which create a feeling of well being. People think more clearly without stress, so you'll be in a better decision making zone. 
  3. Laughter is good for your health. It's proven to increase your immune system, so you'll be less likely to catch the cold that's going around and you'll have more energy to get things done. 

 At UP, we invite you to have a warm, laughter-filled holiday with friends, family and colleagues. Wishing you all the best in 2017!

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What Should You Do With Your Hands?

It's funny when you think about it...How much time in your day do you spend talking to people with no issues around using your hands? For example, when chatting with colleagues, it’s amazing how little you think about your hands. Then you stand up to give a presentation and suddenly it’s “Oh my god, what do I do with these things? Where do I put them?”

Everyone from CEOs to novice presenters ask the same questions. We always offer the same principles. Here they are.

  1. Use Your Hands For Clarity. Gestures allow you to add a visual element to complicated verbal information. For example, if you need to explain a key difference in making a choice, you could say "We could do this...." (while gesturing to the right) "Or we could do this..." (while gesturing to the left.) Though this sounds simple, it's neurologically proven to help people understand the message more clearly. Think of your hands as nature's gift to data visualization. In your next presentation, instead of relying on your deck, try using your hands to visually illustrate important information. This will dramatically heighten the impact of your message.
  2. Observe Your Natural Resting Hands. Notice what your hands naturally do when you’re having a conversation. Apply that to the moment of presenting. People overthink hand gestures. Most likely the behaviors you use when feeling relaxed and confident will translate equally well in a presenting context.
  3. Find Something to Hold. For some people, it’s incredibly calming to hold something in your hand. When going into an important meeting, bring a cup of coffee. Or when giving a presentation, bring a pointer when using slides or hold a bottle of water. These small things will calm your nervous system and no one will notice them.

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Ageism: Increase Your Chances of Getting Hired

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Ageism: Increase Your Chances of Getting Hired

Age discrimination is a missed opportunity for companies and candidates.

There are countless people, especially women, who lose their jobs and leave their chosen professions because they can’t get work. Sales is a particularly difficult field yet age discrimination affects probably affects all industries.

I often coach professionals over 50 and sometimes as young as 40 who are very concerned about their ability to get work. Should they include their graduation year on their resumes? Should they go back to school?

A recruiter I highly regard (who asked to remain anonymous) said that many candidates just aren’t “with it”. They dress old, act old and have no energy. While some of her clients specifically ask for younger candidates, she felt she could “sell in” an older candidate who had the right experience and attitude and could fit into the company.  

If you are looking for a job and ageism is affecting you, here’s what you can do about it:

1.    Be a learner! Keep expanding your knowledge base. Stay up on the latest trends. Take a course to freshen up your skills (I love Coursera courses, accessible and free). Invest in yourself.

2.    Polish your story. Own the knowledge and experience you have gained through the years. Match it to the needs of the job. Answer questions thoughtfully and substantially.

3.    Own your fear and do something about it. Hire a coach or lean on a friend to help you weed out the negatives from your interview skills. Don’t forget your body language and vocal tone. If you feel defeated it will undoubtedly show up in your body and voice.

4.    Express passion for the work. Inspire the hiring manager with the value you bring to the job. Along with passion, it’s critical to show up to the interview with energy.

5.    Look the part. Dress appropriately for the interview – not too old or too young. Freshen up your look with current styles and get a great haircut.

6.    Be flexible. Companies want to hire professionals who are adaptable and not trapped into one way of doing things. You need to fit into their culture (or it’s not the right job for you).

7.    And finally, be open up to new opportunities outside your chosen field. There are dozens of successful people who made a change for a whole host of reasons. If you do decide to begin your “second act” it can be quite rewarding. I did and I love it!

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What Pop Psychology gets WRONG about Body Language in Business

Picture a really caring person you work with. They cross their arms as they nod in agreement about a point you just made and lean in to ask you a question. Just because their arms were crossed, did you read their body language as defensive? Probably not.

Now, picture someone who you find difficult to work with. As you explain a problem, they are leaning back, showing no facial expression and sitting dead still with their arms at their sides. Did you picture that person as receptive to your message just because their arms weren’t crossed? Again, probably not.

Articles that circulate rules like “Don’t cross your arms” are missing the point: body language is a language. It requires all the subtlety and awareness of spoken language.

Just like people use different types of words in contrasting settings (family gatherings versus board rooms) and various parts of the country (north versus south), or even from company to company, the same is true for body language. 

How do you know what to do if there are no clear rules? 

2 Rules for the No Rules Approach to Body Language:

  1. Frequency of Signaling. Communication is all about the back and forth. More than specific gestures, people read how often you send affirmative signals. If you nod, or say things like “yes,” “okay,” or “sounds good” people perceive you’re warm, receptive and open. If you withhold letting the other person know what you think (by being silent and still) you will be read as powerful but potentially cool, aloof or defensive. Based on how you want to be perceived, choose how often you send validating signals such as nodding, leaning in and saying affirmative words.
  2. Selective Mirroring. What reads as powerful in one company’s culture can read as pompous in another. When entering a new setting, whether it’s a presentation or an important meeting at a new company, identify who holds the most power. Mirror that person’s gestures, pacing and energy level. Just as you would adjust your word choice based on who you were speaking to (such as an adult versus a child), this technique allows you to display maximum power within the specific circumstance.

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Interviews That Go Nowhere

Yes, we are all busy, but when did it become okay to treat job prospects so poorly?

“Gregory”, a mid-level manager I am coaching, was very far along the interview funnel for a more senior position.  When the hiring manager invited him to lunch, he thought he was on the verge of a job offer. To be safe, Greg confirmed the lunch two days before, but the hiring manger did not reply. The day of the luncheon came and went without a single word.  As it turned out, the recruiter was left in the dark too.  Over three weeks later, Greg heard via text that the job went to someone else. Really? These kinds of stories make me crazy, and they are all too common.

For hiring managers, think of your brand. 16-year veteran recruiter, Don Leon, told me “I've always encouraged hiring managers to go out of their way to communicate with candidates they don't hire.  It's a small thing, yet in the era of social media, it creates good will and the company's reputation can be enhanced within the market.  Also a company's needs could change, so the person once dismissed could one day be viable”.

 We live in a world where social media rules and negative tweets can impact your brand and reputation, but be a person first.  Think of these candidates as human beings and treat them with respect.

Patty Newman, HR Director, North America at Essence Digital, said that getting back to candidates is an act of human kindness.  She said it is common practice at many successful firms to get back to ALL job applicants within 48 hours. That sounds like a good rule to follow. At least candidates will know where they stand. Maybe it is wishful thinking, but if followed it would save candidates, and company reputations, from a lot of angst.

But what about candidates? What can they do in a world where companies large and small go radio silent? I hear this complaint constantly from job candidates who feel beaten up and worn down. Many have gone through multiple interviews, 90-day action plans and mock presentations only to have their emails and calls fall on deaf ears. What can they do to make this process less painful?

1.       Take the emotion out of it – anger, confusion, depression, sadness etc. It’s not personal.

2.       Polish your story and customize it for each interview or job opportunity. One size does not fit all.

3.       Think of it like dating. Some jobs are just not a match and that’s okay.

4.       Spend time reflecting on the interview, critically analyzing every aspect. What did you learn from it? What could you have done differently to change the outcome?

5.       A positive attitude matters. Negativity shows up in what you say and how you say it. Your vocal tone and body language quickly give away what’s going on inside.

6.       Put your energy into other opportunities! It’s a tight job market. Know that there is a job out there with your name on it.

7.       Know that interviewing can be a marathon affair, especially for senior roles. How can you stay energized and engaged throughout? Ask for help – from recruiters, colleagues or career coaches.

Hiring managers and companies can and should do a better job letting candidates off easy, with a simple “we’ve gone in a different direction” type statement. Candidates would be best served to take the emotion out of it, move on and ask for help when the going gets rough.

My hope is that this situation gets better, but I an optimist.  Happily, Greg learned a lot from his frustrating experience and has moved on.  Since he recommitted himself to his current company, he was recently promoted. 

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The Radical Difference Between a Pitch & a Story

Most people describe "their pitch" and "their story" interchangeably. They are absolutely not the same thing.

A pitch is crafted to give information about your brand, important facts, fancy stats. The goal is to describe who you are and what you offer so that the client says, "OH MY GOD I need that!"

For easy clients this works. But when the sale is more competitive, this pitch is easily forgotten. Harvard research proves 80% of presentations are forgotten within three hours.

That's why sellers, and everyone representing a brand, need to tell a GREAT STORY.

Men, women and children all cry at Pixar movies because our brains are hard wired to engage with specific narrative structures. People wouldn't watch Pixar movies if they listed facts about why the main character is great. It's seeing him in action that makes us care.

On a neurological level, stories relax our defense mechanisms and make us lean forward thinking, "What's going to happen next?" This emotional response can be the ingredient that keeps you top of mind and drives action. 

Transforming your pitch into a story can be challenging. Here are three ways to get started:

1. Cause and Effect.
Make a list of your best facts and start asking, "How did we achieve these results?" Rearrange the order of your pitch to show the cause and effect of how one fact resulted in the next fact. Add words like "so then" and "because" to clarify the causal relationship.

At UP, we recently worked with a brand who had very fancy statistics about their success. When prompted to explain "how" they earned those results, they started to describe the CEO’s thought process, step by step. From this exercise, we crafted an emotionally engaging story that resulted in a series of wins on difficult accounts.

2. Cast the Client as the Main Character
Instead of talking about yourself, tell them a story about the goals they hope to achieve and the real challenges they face. Only mention your brand through the lens of how you help companies like theirs.

3. Bring Your Cocktail Party Personality
A different part of the listener's brain lights up when they hear someone talking versus saying memorized information. Reading or reciting anything in a meeting kills the human impact. If you are boring you will be forgotten. The personal style you would use to talk to a friend is necessary for business storytelling.

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Why Business Speak Is Killing Your Message

"Business Speak" includes buzzwords that are used so often, they've lost their impact. You're probably using them way more than you realize. And you must stop. Right now. Here's why...

In sales, "Business Speak" reminds the listener you're trying to sell something. This triggers their defense mechanisms and encourages them to block you out. 

In internal communications, "Business Speak" creates boredom and "Oh, I know what she's talking about" which leads to assumptions, miscommunications and important things falling through the cracks. 

In both circumstances, it undermines the authenticity of the relationship and your power to make your message understood.

The best communicators explain things so that their ten-year-old would get it. Speaking simply makes people slow down and hear what you are ACTUALLY saying. When you speak simply, the listener can picture it, step by step. Whereas business speak invites people to think in large abstract concepts that come with numerous preconceived assumptions.

So if you really want you or your team to make an impact, try breaking down your message so that your grandmother or ten-year-old would both get it and be fascinated!

Here's an exercise to cut the "B.S.":

  1. Make a list of the top 5 words you use on a daily basis. Examples include: "out of the box", ROI, buy in, reach out, scalable, and move the needle.
  2. Do NOT use them for 3 days.
  3. Notice if your conversations are more clear, interesting and effective. 

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The #1 Storytelling Secret for Tech, Science & Complex Concepts

Hope Jahren, a geobiologist, is breaking the rules of science for a purpose— effective storytelling.

Science requires precise terms and follows a golden rule: keep it clinical. Jahren does the opposite. In her recent book Lab Girl: An Homage To The Wonders Of All Things Green she describes a leaf as "a platter of pigments strung with vascular lace.”

As detailed in her NPR interview, examples of Jahren's powerful storytelling verses correct scientific terminology include:

Jahren: Plants are capable of sweating.
Science: Leaves evapotranspirate.

Jahren: Deciduous trees throw away their possessions once a year.
Science: Leaves scinasse (ph) during the autumn.

Wouldn’t you rather hear Jahren’s version? This may seem obvious, but professionals in complex industries fall into traps of science-business-tech speak everyday. 

Here’s why— When our brains learn technical terms, it feels 100% natural to always use the correct term. It is a socially acceptable way of speaking.

Here’s the problem— even if the listener understands you, technical terms fail to evoke interest. As pictured above, people don’t care unless you spark their curiosity. 

Jahren is radically effective because she uses language associated with everyday things in an evocative way. It makes people lean forward when she starts talking. 

How can you transform your story to make people care? 

  1. Redefine your role as a storyteller. People think building good relationships is enough to counter boring presentations. It’s not. You must paint a picture that the listener cares about.
  2. Consider listeners' interests. Think about ways to explain complex ideas with metaphors and stories that will appeal to them. It takes pre-work, but pays off with huge dividends. 

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Use Questions to Change Outcomes

During crucial conversations, such as sales calls, negotiations or high-stakes internal meetings, there is one dramatically misused tool: questions.

People know asking questions is important but are unspecific in execution. Questions become obligatory preamble before saying what's planned, which renders them impotent and annoying. Ineffective probing creates huge missed opportunities.

Questions change outcomes because they allow you to operate with flexibility, in direct relationship to obstacles. We recently trained a sales team who started closing bigger deals once they used questions more effectively.

So, how do you do it?

Picture a vine growing along a city building. It sends out feelers to learn about its environment. It doesn’t get mad when an object blocks its path. It grows around and through it. It literally turns obstacles into footholds to propel growth in its desired direction.

This metaphor offers the secret to effective probing: ask to learn. The truth can not hurt you. The more you know, the more strategically you can respond. Although this feels obvious, it’s very hard to do. 

3 Keys to Effective Probing

  1. Prepare. Create a list of questions before crucial conversations. Think through what you specifically want to learn with each question. In the moment, you may think of other questions, but preparation gives you a solid starting place.
  2. Goldfish Brain. Just as a goldfish forgets everything it knows after 8 seconds, picture everything you think you know about the other’s point of view and then actively forget it. Huge misunderstandings occur when we make assumptions. The more neutral you can enter a conversation, the more you will be able to learn.
  3. Uncover Opportunity. Learn what matters to them and consider how you can articulate your goal in a way that solves their problem or furthers their intention. Questions are the key to uncovering the classic “win win” in business relationships.

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FBI/Apple Battle Reveals Power of Words

The FBI is battling to get Apple to change their iPhone encryption technology, as you know. 

According to the FBI— Apple’s encryption technology is a “vicious guard dog” that needs to be called off so they can get into one of the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhones. It sounds totally reasonable. They just want Apple to help them remove the dog so they can get in the bad guy’s “house” to look around. 

According to Apple— creating this type of encryption technology would be like injecting "a cancer" into the phone.  Apple designed the phone to offer the very best privacy.  Creating code that undermines the integrity of that encryption is like creating an illness that hijacks the phone’s immune system.

So which is it - a “vicious guard dog” or a vital immune system?

Regardless of your opinion about the case, it's a huge lesson about the power of metaphors

When you need to explain something complicated (like technology), abstract (like big numbers) or controversial (to tightly control the messaging), the right metaphor is the absolute best way to do it. 

3 Reasons Why the Right Metaphors is a Key to Success

  1. Metaphors make complicated ideas immediately relatable. Everyone has a clear, intuitive understanding of a guard dog or cancer.
  2. Metaphors evoke emotion. When you picture one of those shooters having a guard dog protecting them, you probably think, "Come one! Just move the dog out of the way."
  3. Metaphors give you immense control over your message. By using an image to explain a concept, you're spinning the story in your favor. Do you want your "phone to have cancer?" No, we don't either. 

The next time you need to explain something complicated, abstract or extremely important, take the time to find the right metaphor. Choosing the perfect words will allow you to be authentic and extremely effective in the moment. 

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The 8 Second Rule

“In 2000, the attention span of the modern consumer was 12 seconds. It’s now 8 seconds. The average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds,” as reported by Identity Daily

Attention span is defined as the amount of time one can pay attention without distraction. So what does it mean for your business that your fish can focus longer than your perspective client or coworker?

We live in a culture that is rapidly downsizing the length yet increasing the volume of communications. Everyone is bombarded with emails, texts, tweets, Facebook feeds, podcasts, breaking news, viral videos... the list could go on indefinitely.

In every meeting, phone conversation, or even email, you can't count on the other person's focus. You have to earn it. The key is the "hook."

The "hook" is the thing that makes the other person lean forward. It evokes genuine interest. You CAN NOT move into further discussion until the other person wants to hear more. 

Great hooks include: good storytelling, compelling metaphors, evoking fears of scarcity, or bonding over common interests. Sometimes the hook is business related. With others, an authentic connection makes them sit up and listen. 

Bottom line: business can't be boring. Now more than ever before, you must have a keen awareness of the listener's interest and attention span to make an impact. 

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The Power of "Differently"

Actor Kevin Spacey said the best advice he ever received from a director was, “Do it differently."* 

Even the best speakers form habits. You can probably do a good impression of a colleague because we all fall into communication patterns. 

Habits can be dangerous when you stop having choice over what you are doing. When in "presenter mode" or "sales mode," it’s easy to miss opportunities. Maybe the listener has a question or the crowd isn’t warm to that type of joke. Often, people don’t even realize their tics, filler words, or “go to” responses. 

How can you successfully shift a habit?

The key is called “Inhibition.” Every time you do a habit, that neural pathway deepens. If you try to change your habit by instantly doing a different behavior, it’s like asking your brain to swim upstream. It can work for a little while but eventually you’ll fall back into the old way. (That’s why all those January gym memberships end up going to waste.)

When you “Inhibit” an impulse, it’s like asking your brain for a tiny pause. Instead of trying to do instantly change/swim upstream, you’re simply saying, “don’t jump in that stream.” Then there is the possibility to do something different.

So the next time you have an important presentation or meeting, focus your attention on when you feel the impulse to fall into habits. In your head, say “no” to the old behaviors and wait 2 seconds. Take a breath and explore making new choices based on the needs of the listener.

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$9 Million Dollar Story Structure

Budweiser spent over 9 million dollars on their 60 second "Lost Dog" Superbowl spot because they know the value of a powerful story.

As of the Monday morning after the game, “Lost Dog” had 2,168,530 shares across Facebook, Twitter and blogs, according to Unruly, a video advertising platform. Why do people care about it amidst the overload of other ads and the game?

Powerful story structure.

Here it is: A sweet yellow lab frolics with his owner and best friend, a clydesdale, on a beautiful farm, until he’s accidentally kidnapped. The puppy ends up lost, stranded in the rain, and almost killed by a wolf until the clydesdale miraculously gallops to the pup’s rescue. The spot ends with the reunion of the owner, dog, horse and a beer.

According to Neruoeconomist Paul Zak, effective dramatic structures trigger hormonal changes in the listener. A puppy is an easy main character to love, and watching him prompts your brain to produce oxytocin, the hormone related to connection and empathy. When you worry about the pup, you generate cortisol, the hormone that increases focus. Then the happy ending produces dopamine, which results in a feeling of optimism. 

As Harrison Monarch details in his HBR article, this Budweiser commercial employs the same classic story structure as Shakespeare. This structure isn’t new, it’s just really effective. 

So the next time you’re talking to your boss, a prospective client, or anyone who you want to influence, consider using the structure of a story. Ask yourself, “If someone was going to make a movie about my message, how would they tell it? How would they make the audience care?” 

People love stories, so even amidst a crazy day they’ll usually stop for a good tale. Although it’s tempting to get your point out as fast as possible, take a bit of advice from Budweiser. They decided to spend $4.5 million more by doing a 60 sec spot instead of 30 sec because they knew a great plot makes a great pay off. 

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Why "Just" is an Awesome Word

Tons of publications, from Business Insider to Gawker, have published cautionary articles about using “just” in emails and workplace conversation.

Yes, these articles are partially correct— using just can diminish the power of a statement. “I’m just going to share one idea.” is less direct than “I’m going to share one idea.” But, the articles are missing some really important points.

3 Reasons Deleting Just is NOT the Answer

  1. Modifying your level of directness is a great communication skill. If you’re an assertive manager trying to get creative work from an introvert, use just!
  2. Sometimes just makes things STRONGER not WEAKER. Nike's famous, “Just do it" is incredibly powerful. “Do it” doesn’t have the same ring. “She just glared at me” is stronger than “She glared at me.” Just emphasizes or diminishes based on context.
  3. The hate mail pouring in for the word "just" is grounded in a real problem. You can diminish your status through your language. But creating a list of “wrong words” can add another layer of self-consciousness to people who are already struggling to assert themselves.  

The best communicators think with great clarity. They articulate their thoughts in real time to accomplish their goal. And, they are skilled at framing their message so the other person is able to hear it. 

To elevate the power of your communications, instead of micromanaging your word choice, identify a clear goal for each communication. This goal should be about the other person. For example, “I want him to see me as an equal.” or “I want to impress this potential client.” Both of these examples are about the other person.

Then when you’re speaking, pay attention to the other person’s reactions and pursue your goal. Choose your words to accomplish this goal. Do NOT make it about you. Your language will naturally come out differently. 

By setting a clear goal about the other person, it takes some self-consciousness out of communicating and often frees up your power.

As with any communication challenge, it just takes practice to see results because we all have deeply rooted habits. So stick with it to see a real transformation.

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How Do You Meet the Demands of 2016?

Success in 2016 requires strong C-suite leadership and having employees who find work meaningful.

Strong C-suite Leadership
According to Wharton management professor Michael Useem, “When uncertainty and change are very much in the air, the key decisions of company managers have greatest impact — for better or for worse — as management experience and university research both confirm.  Given the increasing uncertainty and change in virtually all major markets, now is a good time to strengthen management capacities for decision-making."

Help Employees Find Meaning
Gallup Research shows that productivity increases 21% when employees are engaged at work. In today’s culture, the strongest talent wants to care deeply about their work. Given this trend, employers must consider what it takes for employees to excel and find fulfillment to retain the best and brightest.


What should you do about it?
Be proactive. While training teams in industries as diverse as media, fashion and finance, UP observed a huge competitive edge in companies that prioritize talent development. As explained by Useem, leadership requires the ability to make “good and timely decisions” which must be communicated with clarity, passion and purpose. Employee fulfillment is directly linked to their strengths and values.


Small steps can lead to large returns. For internal initiatives, start a mentoring program or add a section to monthly meeting that shines focus on one employee or program. For external programs, UP has seen major leadership growth in a series of one-one-one sessions with C-level executives and totally transformed entire teams with group workshops customized to their most stressful challenges.


Whatever you do, be sure to do something. Senior leadership and employee engagement are the intangibles that will determine your bottom line.

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Unplug with Zero Guilt

Taking time off for the holidays can make you happier and smarter.

There's tons of science behind this, but everyone's so busy with the holidays we'll get right to the point. 

When you take a real break (not checking your phone every 3 minutes):

  1. Blood flow increases to the parts of your brain responsible for memory, integrating new information and problem solving. (This is why new parents who never get a break can't remember anything.)
  2. Dopamine, the neurotransmitter of pleasure, in combination with a distraction leads to higher creativity. According to Harvard research, when you feel happy and stop fixating on a problem, it opens your brain to invent new solutions. 

As explained by Tim Kreider in The New York Times, "Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body."

So set up your auto-response email message and enjoy a REAL BREAK (for the good of your work-- of course).

UP wishes you a joyous, guilt-free holiday with your friends and family! 

All the best for 2016!

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The Science of Why Generosity Matters

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Start with this 10 second exercise:

  1. Choose a favorite food— the most delicious thing that pops into your brain right now.
  2. Remember a recent time when you were really hungry.
  3. Picture a friend showing up (during the hungry moment) and giving you that perfectly prepared favorite food.

How would you feel? Most people would respond— Grateful.

Here’s what’s new: neuroscientists out of USC found a direct link between the neutral pathways of gratitude and generosity. They’re inherently coupled, like two sides of the same coin.

This means your brain activity when receiving an unexpected steak or sushi (insert your favorite food here) is similar to the brain activity of the friend who is doing the giving.

Why does this matter for business? When your brain experiences gratitude/generosity, it activates neural pathways connected with positive emotion, relationship, fairness and economic decision-making. People’s brains literally function differently when dealing with people they have invested in or feel grateful toward.

This takes the old adage, “People do business with people they like,” to the next level.

Generosity and gratitude are symbiotic; if you trigger one, it automatically triggers the impulse for the other. So an act of generosity can start a spiral of goodwill.

As articulated by Antonio Damasio, world-renowned neuroscientist who specializes in how emotion influences decision making, "Gratitude rewards generosity and maintains the cycle of healthy social behavior."

As Thanksgiving draws near, try this out for yourself. Do something kind (and out of your usual routine) for a coworker or client. Notice how it impacts the business relationship.

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3 Trans Inclusive Tools for Workplace Communication

Important Note: Just as no one can speak for all women or a specific race, individuals within the trans community vary in how they want to be seen and treated. This list will give you pointers towards appropriate workplace communication. The next step is to get to know trans people just as you would anyone else.

1. Use the Right Pronoun.

The “right” pronoun is whatever that person wants to be called. It may include: he, she, they or something else. If you don’t know, listen for how they refer to themselves or ask.

You would feel weird if someone called you a “she” and you’re a “he” or vice versa. It's just as true for a trans person. Using the right pronoun really matters. 

2. Practice Makes Perfect

Calling someone “they” or changing a pronoun after you’ve known someone can feel awkward at first. It’s okay to not do it perfectly at the start. Just do it anyway. If you mess up, apologize quickly and move on.

3. Ask the Appropriate Level of Questions

If you don’t know what someone wants to be called or you’re concerned you’re being insensitive about something, just ask. By acknowledging you don’t know something, but you’d like to, that’s a way of showing support.

Equally important, just as with any colleague, stay away from inappropriately personal questions. Just because someone is trans doesn’t give you the right to inquire about if they will, or want to, have surgery or the gender of the person they date.

For more information about how to be an ally to trans professionals, consult GLAAD.

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